Maybe 2 years ago or more, I had met winemaker Mark Cargasacchi at a wine dinner "offline" as they call it on the erobertparker.com boards ("e-bob") - Mark was down in Long Beach selling the very wines he makes from his winery Jalama, and there happened to be a South African wine off-line going on at Springbok, a South African bar and grill right in one of the harbors in Long Beach, a pretty setting but with disappointing food - but nevertheless, we enjoyed an array of great South African wines that evening, more than 20 if I recall correctly, and I recall tasting Mark's El Capitan Red wine that evening and talking to the winemaker about what it was like to be making wine in Santa Barbara County, and I recall him saying it was great. He shared that it was fantastic that the region was being recognized for its wines, and that he had grown up in the region before it was wine country, and his parents had a farm and it was mostly about having cattle and growing fava beans, and he thought when he was younger that that would be his future too, cattle and fava beans, until he became a winemaker.
This I remembered about Mark, and fortunately I kept his business card all this time, and when it came time to head up to Santa Ynez and toward Santa Rita Hills, I saw that his address was Lompoc, and so was our appointment with Clos Pepe, so why not hit both wineries in the same morning? I called Mark up and he invited us right away.
To be honest, it was not that easy finding the place. Mark's place is more his home than an actual winery, though there are vines on the property. Mark makes wine in the Lompoc Wine Ghetto, which sounds to me like a winery facility where a number of winemakers make there wine, and it is located in downtown Lompoc behind the Home Depot. We didn't make it over there to do a tasting, but I believe you can go to the Wine Ghetto (love the name) to taste some wines, and we heard that until recently, Sea Smoke was made there. I had just tasted what I believe was my first Sea Smoke Pinot Noir from the Southing vineyard a couple weeks ago when we hosted a movie night to re-watch Sideways, and the Sea Smoke was quite good I must say! Quite tasty and almost worth the price tag (probably $80), though of course I would hesitate a bit. But I did enjoy it. At any rate, we did get a bit lost trying to find where we were going on Jalama Road, a windy country road that goes up a crest then goes down toward the ocean from the 1 Hwy. After calling Mark when we were lost and getting assistance, we did end up finding their beautiful property surrounded by happy, happy cows, several excitable dogs, and a gorgeous rooster who kept cock-a-doodle dooing.
It was in this charming countryside setting that we were invited into Mark's house to taste his wines in the kitchen. Out came platters of cheese and meats and olives and bread and crackers and hummus, in case we were getting hungry, which I found to be so nice and inviting. We met Clinton also, who joined us for the tasting. Clinton is responsible for the new, classy labels on the Jalama wines, which replace the former more psychedelic labels, but the new label captures the same blue-green color scheme from the old label which is nice.
There were 6 wines to taste, and unlike the tasting we just came from at Clos Pepe, there were all different grape varieties to sample, from all different vineyards where Mark sourced the fruit. Now, I wish I took notes at the time, but I didn't, so I am going by memory alone...
2007 Jalama "Giallo" - this is a white wine, and Giallo is the proprietary name for it, and though the wine is a 100% Pinot Gris, nowhere does it say this on the front or back label - the reason? It is not what one would expect a Pinot Gris to taste like or look like - it is a barrel fermented, barrel aged Pinot Gris that goes toward Chardonnay in its look and feel, though I think it is more like what one would think of a Fume Blanc (Sauvignon Blanc that is done in barrel instead of in stainless steel) - it is a clean and lovely wine, and I would love to enjoy this one with some seared sea scallops and rich buttery potatoes.
2007 Jalama Pinot Noir - this is a different clone of Pinot Noir from what we tasted at Clos Pepe, I believe Mark said Clone 114, while more commonly is used Clone 115 which is more fruity.... Clone 114 is less fruity, and this is where I found the Pinot Noir to be more savory than what we tasted at Clos Pepe - and I liked it. Though I like fruitiness in wines quite a lot, I enjoyed the savory aspect of this wine, a touch of black olive and mushroom though not quite that earthy since this is still a pretty young wine. An interesting and very good Pinot Noir after all the other good Pinots we just experienced down the road, this Jalama Pinot Noir again reflects the good, long and even growing season of 2007, though I believe I heard Mark say 2008 was good too, even though it was less even and had a few more heat spikes.
2007 Jalama Mourvedre, Camp 4 - This was my favorite wine of the bunch, this Mourvedre. I like Mourvedre, I do believe, and this one is a clone from Tablas Creek, and I like Tablas Creek so this all makes sense. The wine is so nicely balanced, again with the savory qualities I found in the Pinot Noir but here even more so. The wine is interesting and like no other variety. I believe the Camp 4 vineyard is part of the Fess Parker holdings, and gives me an idea that Fess Parker bought and owned a lot of land up in these parts back in the day. Who knew he had Mourvedre vines?
2006 Syrah, Paradise Road - This is the first of 2 Syrahs we are about to try and they are over 15% alcohol, which I am looking at at this point in the tasting because I can feel it. I reach for a couple of slices of cold meats which taste good and help take the edge off. This Syrah is a solid number, with some dark red brooding fruits on the palate, but still some of that savory quality that seems to be something that Mark likes in his wines. I like it too but I worry that high alcohol wines will put me over the edge so I pour out my taste and move on to the next Syrah.
2006 Syrah, La Presa - this feels like Mark's favorite, and my husband Johan seemed to like this one also a lot - Mark talked about this La Presa vineyards which is a steep hillside vineyard where all the work is done by hand because you can't get a machine up there.... this is what I'm more used to dealing with when it comes to German wines - all hand done! This Syrah is a bit more grippy and powerful but not more alcoholic, just the flavor components are more balanced and richer somehow and less fruity than the Paradise Road Syrah.
2006 Jalama "El Capitan" - this is the signature red wine, terrific with olives, I found, just a solid great blend with some Syrah, some Cab, and some other components... bring on more olives and maybe a juicy rib eye steak.
So that was the line-up. An amazing experience and some really nice people, gorgeous countryside and an adventure just to find it. We left there happy and hungry, heading for the Hitching Post for some pre-dinner grub.... a pricy but very classy happy hour.